On Series Fiction

Lately, I've been reading a lot of series YA books,* books that have two or three or four sequels, and I have to say that it hasn't been going so well. Usually, this is what happens:

(1) I love the first book. It's awesome and original and the characters are great.
(2) The second book is good. Maybe the idea isn't as good, or the characters seem a little stale or something. But it's still a pretty good book, and I'm looking forward to the next one.
(3) I read book three and think "really"? and put it down halfway through after skimming to the end to find out who dies.

For a while I wasn't sure why I was having that reaction. I mean, these are all different authors, writing about very different topics, so how was it possible that my reaction was pretty much the same each time? Was it ME? Could I be the problem?**

Then I realized what was happening--it was the adults.

I went back to confirm and, sure enough, in each of these different series, the first book is all about the teenager. Who the character is, what problems the character faces, the relationships between the characters and the big conflict, that's all about the main character, the young adult.

But starting in book two, that focus starts to shift. Suddenly, adults matter more. Suddenly, there are politics. ::shudder::*** And here's the thing: I don't care about adults. I mean, in real life, of course I care about adults. And I care about adults in books, too, when I read books about adults.

But, for me at least, YA fiction is supposed to be about teenagers. Young adults. Not the political machinations of adults who use teenagers as their pawns or try to manipulate them or control them. So when a series becomes more concerned with the doings of the adults than the doings of the main character I signed up for? That's when I start checking out.

I think this happens, at least in part, for two reasons:

(1) the people writing the books are mostly adults. So they sometimes lose sight of the fact that the goings on of the adult world? Not all that interesting to kids (and readers with the minds of kids, like me :) ).

(2) in a series, you need to raise the stakes. So something that starts as a deliberate and focused story in book one (that maybe was never even meant to be a series, keep in mind), has to get bigger and badder in book two and three and four and etc. Suddenly, the boy just out to save himself now needs to save the whole town or the whole world. The stakes get bigger, the cast gets bigger, and BAM! suddenly you're in the middle of a debate on the floor of the Imperial Senate wondering how you got there and why your main character is suddenly a spectator instead of an actor.

And that spells trouble. Right here in River City.

It's also something for me to keep in mind as some of the stories I'm writing could serve as a jumping off point for a series. And if that happens, I have to make sure that my books don't fall victim to the same sorts of problems I'm seeing in these books.


* Some of these are new series, and some of them are old series (like 60 years old).

** Maybe I am also part of the problem. I'm willing to consider that possibility, but it doesn't make for a very good blog entry.

*** For a perfect example of how politics can ruin a good story, see the prequels to Star Wars. I'm sorry, we went from Darth Vader and Han Solo to the debates of the Imperial Senate? Guess who couldn't care less about that?


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